Something has to give when a pair of ultra-talented and lightly-raced colts, Jack Christopher and Taiba, square off in Saturday’s 55th running of the $1 million Haskell S. (G1) at Monmouth Park. Eight three-year-olds are set for what promises to be an exciting 1 1/8-mile race.
The Haskell serves as a “Win & You’re In” for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland on Nov. 5.
A smashing winner in all four career starts, Jack Christopher has not shown any distance limitations, winning the seven-furlong Woody Stephens (G1) by 10 lengths most recently, but he’s yet to try two turns. And that’s the big question surrounding the phenom. The Haskell will tell us whether the Breeders’ Cup Classic is a legitimate target, or if Jack Christopher needs to be pointed to the Dirt Mile (G1) or Sprint (G1).
Chad Brown trains the Munnings colt, and Jack Christopher has been tabbed as the 3-2 second choice on the Haskell morning line with regular rider Jose Ortiz.
Taiba is the early 7-5 favorite, a recognition driven in part by trainer Bob Baffert. The Hall of Famer, who returned from a 90-day suspension on July 3, has won the Haskell a record nine times, never finishing out of the money from 15 starters (five seconds and a third), and Taiba appears to be training lights-out, drilling impressive six-furlong works in preparation at Santa Anita.
By record-breaking freshman sire Gun Runner, Taiba didn’t make his first start until March 5, romping in a six-furlong maiden special weight, and he followed with a remarkable victory in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), registering a field-best 111 Brisnet Speed rating for the convincing 2 1/4-length victory. That’s no easy feat for any racehorse, and the sky appeared the limit for Taiba afterwards, but the Kentucky Derby proved too much too soon for the chestnut colt, who weakened to 12th after chasing a hot pace.
The Haskell offers an opportunity for redemption, and Taiba should be forwardly-placed with Mike Smith.
Grade 1 winners Cyberknife and White Abarrio will seek a minor upset.
Cyberknife established himself as a Kentucky Derby contender winning the Arkansas Derby (G1) by nearly three lengths, but the Gun Runner colt suffered for being part of the wicked early fractions at Churchill Downs, retreating to 18th in the stretch. Cyberknife got back on track with a game score in the June 12 Matt Winn (G3), and Florent Geroux will guide the 6-1 fourth choice for Brad Cox.
Florida Derby (G1) hero White Abarrio also disappointed in the Kentucky Derby, checking in 18th, but he came nine weeks later with a good second in the Ohio Derby (G3). Joel Rosario picks up the mount on the 5-1 stalker, and Saffie Joseph Jr. trains the gray colt.
Howling Time, a nose second to Cyberknife in the Matt Winn, is eligible to be part of the pace with Joe Talamo. Last-out Monmouth allowance winner Benevengo, dead-heat allowance scorer King of Hollywood, and New Jersey-bred maiden winner One Time Willard round out the lineup.